Summer Shenanigans

Last weekend, I went with some girlfriends to Tillamook, Oregon for a getaway weekend. If you’ve never been to Tillamook, it’s best known for its dairy industry — so of course we visited Blue Heron creamery to sample delicious brie and feed the animals.

(That’s me as a bull above, with my friend and fellow author Alexis, writing as Alexis Radcliff, as a peacock. Photo by Kristin Koontz.)

I find summers fun, but exhausting. While Portland winters are designed for hunkering down and getting work done, as soon as we get our stretch of rain-free summer days we try to pack in as much as possible.

In July I have two family reunions, two groups of friends/family coming to visit us in Portland, and of course all the impromptu barbecues, bike rides, and trips to the river that are bound to happen. 

As a self-employed writer, it can be hard to find balance in the summer. On the one hand, so long as I turn in client work on time I can get the work done wherever. Because my client work load tends to be lighter in the summer, I can be more flexible and take advantage of all the fun. 

On the other hand, it can be incredibly hard to simply relax without feeling like I should be working harder. If I blow off early on a Friday I’m basically playing hooky alongside the most demanding boss ever (me).

Anyhow, all that to say that summer is here in the Pacific NW, and it’s going to be glorious and frenetic and exhausting and fun. 

What have you got planned?

Writing update

Summer will inevitably put a dent in my fiction writing productivity, but I do still have goals! I’m still drafting the sequel novella to Starfall, which is very close to being finished. It’ll be called Deviant Flux.

And I’m also working on a special Durga System short story (working title is Rogues), which will be available next month as part of a very cool giveaway. Keep your eyes peeled!

For your To-Be-Read list

Summer reading for me is all about books that completely absorb me. I tend to read a lot of thrillers and mysteries in summer for that reason, and it’s even more fun when I can find a sci-fi mystery!

I recently picked up Mur Lafferty’s Six Wakes on the virtue of the cover and tag line alone, and I’m so into it. Six criminal clones alone on a space ship, all woken at the same time to the grisly murder scene of their past bodies, a crime which they now have to solve? Yes, please!

You should also check out Alexis Radcliff’s A Vanishing Glow. Longtime newsletter readers may remember that Alexis and I launched our first books (A Vanishing Glow and Shifting Borders) together. It’s a dark fantasy with an excellent thread of mystery and great characters!

Six Wakes


by Mur Lafferty

In this Hugo nominated science fiction thriller by Mur Lafferty, a crew of clones awakens aboard a space ship to find they’re being hunted-and any one of them could be the killer.

Maria Arena awakens in a cloning vat streaked with drying blood. She has no memory of how she died. This is new; before, when she had awakened as a new clone, her first memory was of how she died.

Maria’s vat is one of seven, each one holding the clone of a crew member of the starship Dormire, each clone waiting for its previous incarnation to die so it can awaken. And Maria isn’t the only one to die recently…

Find it on Amazon, Kobo, IndieBound

A Vanishing Glow


by Alexis Radcliff

The king is dying, and the fate of the realm rests in the hands of four people: A young, idealistic prince, a rugged soldier from the borderlands, an ingenious runaway inventor, and a mad, brilliant wizard who brought his magic-fueled machines to a world that was hardly ready for them.

Intrigue is rampant, and trust is in short supply…

When a brutal murder rocks the foundations of the kingdom, only one man has the skills to bring the killer to justice. With sword and musket in tow, he digs through the guts of the seedy underworld to find not only the assassin, but also the name of the smiling nobleman who ordered his friend’s death.

Find it on Amazon

Breathe In, Breathe Out — And Retake Control of Your Life

There’s this thing I’ve been hearing a lot from creative friends over the last few weeks. It goes something like: “I’m trying to get back to work, but I just can’t focus with everything that’s going on in the world.”

(Mostly there are a lot more swear words.)

If you’re in that boat lately — whatever the reason — you’re not alone.

I feel you.

I don’t have the solution to all the world’s problems, (sorry), but I do have some ideas for blocking out the chaos and getting your own work done.

Because as much as there is a time for engagement and advocacy, your creative contributions are still critical to the world.

This month, each Monday Morning Blast-Off — my weekly newsletter for productive creative folks — will have a different tip for regaining your focus and getting back to work. I decided to post this series on my blog, too, because hey. We could all use some advice here.

Ready to reclaim your brain?

Tip #1: Meditation.

Disclaimer: I used to roll my eyes when productivity gurus inevitably included meditation in their lists of tips. I mean, seriously, sitting still for a few minutes feels nice, but you know what feels better?

Getting actual stuff done.

But these productivity gurus wouldn’t shut up about it.

And I finally tried it.

And my mind bounced all over the place like a ping-pong ball being chased by a caffeinated Aussie shepherd.

And I did not feel any better.

Despite hating meditation, I kept trying it off and on. I eventually downloaded an app called Calm, which has a variety of guided meditations. (I know other people love a different app, Headspace.)

I started meditating more regularly, and after a while I noticed that not only was I getting better at letting go of thoughts while actually meditating — I was better at calming myself down and refocusing my mind during the rest of the day.

  • When I want to be present for my work.
  • When I want to be present for my husband, or for a friend.
  • When I want to let go of the anger and frustration and anxiety surrounding me.

That is to say, my mind isn’t any less prone to ping-ponging — I’ve just gotten better at letting extraneous thoughts go and coming back to what’s important.

A little bit better, at least.

Here’s a metaphor I like from Thich Nhat Hanh:

Mindfulness is the miracle by which we master and restore ourselves. Consider, for example: a magician who cuts his body into many parts and places each part in a different region — hands in the south, arms in the east, legs in the north, and then by some miraculous power lets forth a cry which reassembles whole every part of his body. Mindfulness is like that — it is the miracle which can call back in a flash our dispersed mind and restore it to wholeness so that we can live each minute of life.

(From The Miracle of Mindfulness.)

Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt like your mind has been cut in a million different parts, each part in a different region.

And raise your hand again if you want to learn how to reassemble your mind on cue.

The point of all this is that I’ve now become one of those people who won’t shut up about how you should try meditation.


Anywho, try it and let me know how it goes, will you?

Your Homework (you guessed it):

Try meditating this week — even if it’s for only two minutes a day.

I like to meditate first thing in the morning before my brain gets too buzzy, but pick a time that works for you.

If you’re new to meditation, I’d definitely recommend going through Calm’s free 7 Days of Calm starter session.

Whatever you do, keep engaging with the world, but don’t let it hijack your ability to do your most important work.

And if you want a little kick of creative productivity every Monday morning, don’t forget to sign up for the Monday Morning Blast-Off newsletter.

What are you doing to block out the chaos and get your work done? Let me know in the comments.  

(Cover photo by Sayan Nath via Unsplash)

Camp Nanowrimo, Day 1 – and a request

Have you ever done Nanowrimo? It’s National Novel Writing Month, which happens every November. People around the world take on the challenge of writing a novel (50,000 words) in one month.

I participated years ago and enjoyed the challenge of writing daily – plus, the excitement of hearing everyone else’s progress is really enlivening!

About a week ago, I heard about Camp Nanowrimo. It’s the “summer camp” version of Nanowrimo, where you can set your own word count goal, then shack up into digital “cabins” with other writers in order to share encouragement and feedback.

I decided to sign up on a whim because I’ve been really floundering in my fiction writing habit lately, and I needed a good kick in the motivation. I set a goal of 30,000 words for July (or, about 1,000 words a day). With that goal, I should easily finish the next Durga System novella, and probably get started on some other stuff, as well. I already met my 1k goal for today, so there’s one day down!

Here’s where the request comes in.

I’m trying to get some accountability for my writing, and I’m thinking of starting a standing #1k1hr challenge on Twitter weekday mornings. Probably 8am Pacific, since that will motivate me to get up and get those words out before I get deep in email and client work.

Wanna play? If so, tweet me at @jkwak and let’s write some words together!

The Art of Collaboration

This post was originally published on at Four Windows Books, a project I’m working on with my friend Christine Smith.

The Novel Incubator

A while back, I interviewed Lucrece Borrego about her Brewery Incubator project in Houston. The project met a need – home brewers who were interested in getting into commercial brewing, but didn’t have the capital or expertise to dive right in unsupported.

The Brewery Incubator would give them the space and equipment to work on their craft, as well as connecting them in to a community of beer enthusiasts who could give them feedback and encouragement as they started their journey.

The project wasn’t for dabblers. It was for those who were willing to put in the elbow grease to start their career.

In a way, Four Windows is a Novel Incubator.

It’s that safe space for novelists who maybe have felt they lacked the support or motivation to write the novel that’s been brimming inside them. Here, they’ll find the support and encouragement they need, along with a collaborative spirit that helps them hone their craft.

At our first critique session last week, Andy Gaines put it way: “Writing a novel is huge. But writing a novel that’s already supported, and with the feedback from other good writers, seems doable.”

Instruction by public consumption

A key ingredient of Lucrece Borrego’s Brewery Incubator is that of public input. Brewers participating in the incubator project get a chance to pour in the taproom, which is open to the public. Consumers get a chance to taste and give feedback to the fledgling brewers, and the brewers get a chance to build a following.

By publishing our novels serially, the authors of Four Windows get a similar experience. We’re not just getting the feedback of our peers, we’ll be getting it from our readers along the way. We’re not brewing our stories in a vacuum – we’re brewing them with the input of our readers.

Two of the biggest stumbling blocks in writing a novel are these questions:

“Will anyone like it?” – and – “What the hell will I do with it when I’m done?”

With Four Windows, those questions hold no power. You’ll know as you’re writing whether or not anyone likes it, and as for what will happen once you’re done writing?

Well, your novel will be published.

Belly up to the bar

The inaugural team of Four Windows authors are hard at work, shoveling inklings of plot and whispers of characters into the mash tun to boil. Pretty soon we’ll be ready to pour you a heady sampler tray of stories – to get in on the first batch, please check out